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New York State Labor Department to convene wage board to investigate and make recommendations on overtime work threshold for farm laborers

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Tue, Feb 25th 2020 12:20 pm

Commissioner Reardon to appoint wage board – recommendations expected by end of year

New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon on Monday announced she will convene a wage board for farm laborers that will hold hearings, review and make recommendations regarding overtime work for farm laborers in New York state.

Under the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law last year, farm laborers are entitled to overtime premium pay starting Jan. 1 for any work they perform in excess of 60 hours per week, and for work performed on their designated day of rest. 

As part of that act, the wage board will consider and make recommendations as to overtime work and, specifically, will hear testimony about reducing the threshold for overtime below 60 hours per week and whether to do so in phases.

“We worked hard to ensure this bill included the proper labor protections and benefits that our farm laborers are entitled to,” Reardon said. “We have an opportunity to improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of farmworkers. Overtime is a key component and we need to get it right.”

Convening Wage Board

As required by the act, Reardon will convene a wage board with the following members:

  • David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau
  • Denis Hughes, former president of the New York State AFL-CIO
  • Brenda McDuffie, president of the Buffalo Urban League 

Under the act, the wage board must hold at least three hearings at which the public will be afforded an opportunity to provide comments. The board will hold five hearings in various parts of the state. The board will consider the input it gathers from farmers and other stakeholders.

The board has until Dec. 31 to make its recommendations, after which the commissioner will have 45 days to take administrative action on those recommendations.

Public hearings are scheduled as follows:

  • Friday, Feb. 28 – 11 a.m. – Albany – New York State Museum Cultural Education Center, Clark Auditorium, 222 Madison Ave.
  • Friday, March 13 – 11 a.m. – Syracuse – Onondaga Community College, Storer Auditorium, 4585 W. Seneca Turnpike
  • Monday, March 23 – 11 a.m. – Binghamton – Binghamton University, Symposium Hall, Center of Excellence Building Innovative Technology Complex, 45 Murray Hill Road, Vestal
  • Thursday, April 16 – 11 a.m. – Long Island – Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville
  • Thursday, April 23 – 11 a.m. – Batavia – Geneseo Community College, William Stuart Forum, 1 College Road

All attendees are encouraged to preregister. Those making public comment will be scheduled in the order of registration. Individuals can register at: http://www.labor.ny.gov/farmwageboard.

In a press release, New York Farm Bureau expressed concern.

“What will be especially challenging for farmers and their employees alike is the timing of the statutorily required hearings. The law directs the wage board to hold its first meeting by March 1 with a report due by December of this year. It will be incredibly difficult for board members to reasonably determine if the overtime threshold should be justifiably lowered,” the email stated. “Farmers have just started to implement changes on their farms to comply with the new law and are still determining what is best for their small businesses and employees. Further, crops are not even in the ground for the spring planting season, let alone having no real-world examples of how this new law will impact harvest season. This short window of time also does not allow any ability to see how different growing conditions due to extreme weather can impact overtime needs.

“New York Farm Bureau strongly believes it will take data from multiple growing seasons to appropriately evaluate the economic realities and labor challenges facing New York agriculture as a result of the new overtime threshold implemented only weeks ago. And until that can happen, it should not be lowered.

“New York Farm Bureau appreciates that the Department of Labor accepted our organization’s suggestion to hold the wage board hearings in areas of the state that provide easier access for the farming community to attend. We highly encourage our members to take the time to speak at one of the hearings or submit public comments to help better inform the wage board members.”

The Labor Board press release noted, “Gov. Cuomo has consistently fought to protect the rights of farm laborers in New York state. On July 17, 2019, the governor signed the Farm Workers Bill. The legislation established the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act to protect farm worker rights and ensure equitable housing and working conditions. The bill grants farm laborers overtime pay, a day of rest each week, disability and Paid Family Leave coverage, unemployment benefits and other labor protections.”

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